The political clock seems to have moved full circle in Pakistan. Yesterday’s anathema Nawaz Sharif, who was mercilessly cast aside by the permanent establishment of Pakistan for cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, seems to be back in favour — while Khan cools his heels in jail for alleged acts of omission and commission. Pakistan, true to type, is dancing to the tune of the Rawalpindi General Headquarters. Last month Nawaz returned to the country after nearly four years of forced exile. Slapped with several corruption and criminal charges, he found sanctuary first in Saudi Arabia and later in London. Now, Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf is in complete disarray while Nawaz’s Muslim League (Nawaz) bids fair to be back in the saddle in Islamabad. It is notable that once Prime Minister Khan became too big for his boots in the view of the army, it cut him down to size. Failing to learn either from the country’s history or from clear signalling by the Rawalpindi GHQ, he sought to become his own man, even seeking to interfere in the army’s promotion policy. He paid the price.
In short, right from its inception successive rulers in Pakistan have had to pay a heavy price for getting on the wrong side of the army generals. It’s not clear whether Nawaz has learnt his lessons; having been prime minister three times for a total of nine years he failed to complete any of his terms, forced out by the generals each time. He did not return to Pakistan when his brother Shehbaz headed the government put together by the generals after the ouster of Khan. With the reassurance from the army and a certainty that the higher judiciary would not go after him, Nawaz returned to a hero’s welcome from his Muslim League (Nawaz) last month. While an interim government is in place till the conclusion of the next general election, the chances of Nawaz’s party winning the mandate seem bright. It is not clear whether Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaf party would be allowed to participate in the polls but by all accounts he continues to be popular among the common people.
However, indications are that through some stratagem the permanent establishment will ensure that Khan’s party is unable to participate in the polls. But in the unlikely event that it does, its defeat will be managed by those who have in the first place arranged to put him in jail. For, an unwritten rule of Pakistan’s basic democracy is that you survive in politics as long as the Rawalpindi GHQ wants you to — no more, no less. Given that the constitutionally mandated elections are due sometime early next year, most likely Nawaz will find himself back in power for a record fourth time. Hopefully, his recent travails have made him wiser about not crossing the path of the generals. It is a different matter that a huge economic mess awaits him or, for that matter, anyone who finds favour with the voters in next year’s poll. The real culprit for the economic mess was Imran Khan, but due to his ouster at the behest of the army the blame has come to be heaped on the all-party government headed by Shehbaz Sharif of the Pakistan Democratic Movement.
Pakistan was a basket case with its economy going through one of the worst phases since its foundation. Its currency was in free fall, fuel prices went through the roof and at one stage consumer inflation topped 150%. Given that the multilateral institutions insisted on strict conditions before agreeing to bail out the forex-starved country, the Shehbaz government courted further unpopularity by seeking to cut subsidies, raise prices of petrol and diesel and clamping down on imports. The wages of official neglect and waste by successive governments in Islamabad were visited on ordinary Pakistanis daily. How the economy can be revived is the biggest challenge before the next government.
Meanwhile, it is pertinent for Indians to note how Pakistan is cracking down on illegal Afghans living within its borders, having recently given notice to all those without a valid permit to leave the country immediately. Pakistan, it should be noted, is a self-avowedly Islamic country but has no hesitation in driving out even those Afghans who had come to live in the country for fear of the Taliban. It is only in India that our secular-liberal consciencewallahs welcome with open arms all the illegals that come through our porous borders from the neighbouring countries. We rise in revolt when a well-meaning measure to provide quicker access to citizenship to persecuted Hindus, Parsis, Sikhs, Jains and such like from neighbouring countries is sought to be implemented. Why? Because we, the only Hindu-majority country in the world, are a liberal-secular country. Some people need to think long and hard, instead of burying their heads in sand.